UPPER MARLBORO – The Dec. 19 Prince George's County Board of Education special meeting was scheduled specifically to discuss the school system's response to the graduation audit, but it quickly turned into an interrogation.
Just hours before the meeting, reports came out about a 2016 internal Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) audit report that showed the school system was struggling with consistencies in student record keeping more than a year ago that have not been fixed.
Board members Edward Burroughs, III and David Murray, along with several Prince George’s County residents, came to the meeting prepared to ask questions and throw accusations.
“Did you hear? They knew the whole time,” Burroughs said continuously to residents as they filed in before the meeting started.
The audit findings sent to the school system on May 4, 2016, detail many issues with PGCPS’s handling of student records. The letter was sent to Gwendolyn Mason, and Adrian Tally, both with student services and cc’d to eight higher-ups in the school system including Board Chair Segun Eubanks, Chief Executive Officer Kevin Maxwell, and two deputy superintendents.
The internal audit specifically noted issues with system-wide student record keeping, detailing 72 instances of noncompliance with the Office of Student Records, Transfer and Archival Services (OSRTAS) record management.
There were 213 instances of noncompliance with “PGCPS registration documentation requirements” and found no system-wide operating procedure to “ensure full compliance with the state of Maryland mandate regarding student records.”
Meaning there was no “documented process to prevent or respond to instances of errors resulting from the improper or untimely completion of the Graduation Standard Credit Summary.”
Burroughs, Murray and several members of the public pointed to this audit during the Dec. 19 board of education meeting as proof that the school system administration knew about graduation fraud and lied about not knowing.
However, Maxwell said he was not directly responsible for combing through that audit, as it was sent to him and while he is informed about audits his only action comes if he is told corrective measures have not been taking to address issues brought up in audits.
“The responsibility to make those corrections, as several of us have stated, rested in the department of teaching and learning with the folks in student records and internal audit,” Maxwell said.
“There are a lot of reports that people get in the divisions of this organization and there’s an accountability responsibility for people to respond to the audit to be notified if things don’t happen, and when I’m notified that things don’t happen…then we take care of those things. If that doesn’t happen, I am not the one, its internal audit and others who are responsible for tracking the response to those audits.”
Maxwell said it is not possible for him to directly respond to every internal audit, noting there are “thousands and thousands of audits that get done in this district every year.”
Monica Goldson, a PGCPS deputy superintendent, said she was not made aware of the audit until October 2017 and worked with student services to craft a response and action plan. That action plan is now being monitored monthly.
Although a significant portion of the meeting was used to ask about the previous audit, the purpose of the meeting was to discuss the school’s system response to the most current state findings regarding possible graduation fraud.
That audit also found that the school system was not adhering to its own policies regarding student record keeping and that there were students who had graduated from PGCPS without meeting the requirements to do so.
About 4 percent of the 1,212 student sample size was found to have not met requirements, though the auditors could not determine if nearly 25 percent had rightly graduated or not due to poor documentation.
“The findings were sobering,” Maxwell said. “They focused our attention on the need to strengthen our governance structures, policies, procedures and school-level record keeping.”
To address those issues, the school system plans to update its policies and procedures to ensure clarity over what is required and then retrain and provide continual training on those policies to improve and ensure adherence.
Maxwell and Chief Operating Officer Wesley Watts said PGCPS also plans to update its technology to automate “archaic processes” and ensure the greater ability of control and oversight of grade changes.
“Currently staff and IT are working on upgrading the SchoolMAX student information system to improve graduation certification, and we’re also creating a grade change for electronically,” Watts said.
Goldson said before the current school year, PGCPS began limiting the number of employees with access to student records, bringing the number of grade and transcript managers at each school down to two.
As 2018 continues, the school system plans to select a third party to monitor the steps taken toward correcting the issues laid out by the audit.
PGCPS also plans to continue updating policies and procedures, determine criteria for excessive absence, work on revamping the multiple pathways to success program, and launch the pilot of the electronic grade change forms.
Maxwell said the action plan would be submitted to the state in December as work continues, but Murray is wary change will come and said he sees a trend in the school system.
“Do we not see a trend here? This is very similar to what happened to Head Start,” Murray said, pointing to the fact that PGCPS was unable to correct issues Head Start found in the school system in time to preserve the federal funding. “Is this not a concerning trend that outside organizations have to get involved for us to do our job?”